Monday, May 14, 2007

Genesis 4:8-16

8 Now Cain said to his brother Abel, "Let's go out to the field."* And while they were in the field, Cain attacked his brother Abel and killed him.

9 Then the LORD said to Cain, "Where is your brother Abel?"
"I don't know," he replied. "Am I my brother's keeper?"

10 The LORD said, "What have you done? Listen! Your brother's blood cries out to me from the ground.

11 Now you are under a curse and driven from the ground, which opened its mouth to receive your brother's blood from your hand.

12 When you work the ground, it will no longer yield its crops for you. You will be a restless wanderer on the earth."

13 Cain said to the LORD, "My punishment is more than I can bear.

14 Today you are driving me from the land, and I will be hidden from your presence; I will be a restless wanderer on the earth, and whoever finds me will kill me."

15 But the LORD said to him, "Not so; if anyone kills Cain, he will suffer vengeance seven times over." Then the LORD put a mark on Cain so that no one who found him would kill him.

16 So Cain went out from the LORD's presence and lived in the land of Nod,** east of Eden.

17 Cain lay with his wife, and she became pregnant and gave birth to Enoch. Cain was then building a city, and he named it after his son Enoch.

18 To Enoch was born Irad, and Irad was the father of Mehujael, and Mehujael was the father of Methushael, and Methushael was the father of Lamech.

* Many early texts lack "Let's go out to the field"
** Nod means "wandering"

Now this is quite interesting. I always had a vague impression that the "mark of Cain" was a badge of shame, like the scarlet letter. But in fact, it is a sign of God's protection. God opposes the death penalty, at least for murder. (Although as we shall see later he insists on it for more serious offenses such as gathering sticks on the sabbath.)

What is most striking about this passage is its profound illogic. As far as we know, until verse 14, there are three people in the world -- Adam, Eve and Cain. So who is going to kill Cain? What is he worried about? Well, it turns out the world is populated after all. How did this happen? There would seem to be two possibilities: 1) God didn't stop with Adam and Eve, he went around making people all over the place, but the Bible just doesn't bother to tell us; 2) Somebody else -- or several somebodies -- had his own creation or creations, and decided to make creatures of the identical species. Either way, did they go through the same travails? Did the other people eat the forbidden fruit, or were they made already knowing good from evil? Did they start out in secret gardens and go through the whole expulsion thing, or did they just wake up in Nod and other places? All very curious.

Then there is the curse. Obviously, God doesn't really mean it, because Cain does not end up as a restless wanderer on the earth, in fact the very next thing we learn about him is that he gets married, settles down, and I mean settles down big time: he builds a whole city. So if the earth isn't yielding for him, he is doing quite well thank you in the construction business. That's a curse I can live with. In Genesis 4, crime pays.